Reflection: Dec 23

I’ll begin this time of reflection with prayerful words from the worship resource, Living the Christ Life:

Gracious God,

For the love you have shown in the gift of the Christ-child,

for ties that bind us together as holy family and community,

for the Christ-light which shines through your Spirit in us,

we thank you and we offer our selves.

Turn all we have, all we are and will become, 

into gifts for the world you so love. Amen

      (Living the Christ Life, by Mangan, Wyse and Farr, Wood Lake Books, 2001)

This is the fourth, and final, Sunday in the Advent season. Each week as we’ve lit another candle in our Advent wreath we’ve also remembered the traditional themes that accompany each Sunday. First there was HOPE, then PEACE, then JOY, and now LOVE.

The scripture passage, for today, and the retelling of the story of Mary and Elizabeth are rich with dramatic and mysterious feelings. Wonder, joy, anticipation, and awe are among these feelings but the underlying theme that is foundational to the story is the power of love to overcome all obstacles even those which seem insurmountable.

This love is not a superficial sweetness without depth. The love spoken about here, and in many other places in Christian Scriptures, is a deep and profoundly powerful love that originates in the Spirit of God and which is instilled in ordinary human beings.

Luke begins the story of Mary’s visitation, with her arrival and greeting of her relative, Elizabeth. As soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting she was filled with the Holy Spirit and the child in her womb leaped with joy. Elizabeth responded with a blessing for Mary and for Mary’s child who she, through a mystical experience, recognized as the long-expected Messiah. Next we have Mary responding with a joyous song of praise for God’s spirit infused in her life and the life of her people. She recognizes the power of God’s love to overturn injustice and to guide people into the way of peace.

In this brief story in Luke’s Gospel, Mary and Elizabeth are revealed as prophets – a rare acknowledgement of these two women. Elizabeth is “filled with the Holy Spirit”

and utters a prophetic blessing that extols Mary as “blessed…among women” and a prophet in her own right for believing and responding to God’s call for her to bear the messiah that would liberate their people.

This liberation was to be of the heart and mind and not of a military force. It was a liberation that would begin with a revolution of God’s love manifest in human form born in humble circumstances as a tiny baby.

The resource, Feasting on the Word, makes this comment on today’s Gospel story:

“The scene is absurd. The coming of the Messiah who will redeem Israel is anticipated and proclaimed, not by archangels or high priests or emperors… Rather, two marginalized, pregnant women – one young, poor, and unwed, the other far beyond the age to conceive – meet in the hill country of Judea to celebrate…their miraculous pregnancies. A baby leaps in the womb. Blessings are shared. Astonishment is expressed. Songs are sung. By two pregnant women. The story is not only odd and joyful; it is fleshy, embodied, earthy, appropriate as a forerunner to the incarnation… In the women’s actions the world is indeed turned upside down. Hierarchies are subverted. The mighty are brought down. Two marginalized, pregnant women carry the future and proclaim the Messiah.” 

(Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 1, pgs.93,95, Westminster John Knox Press, 2009)

A few weeks ago, I spoke about Hannah, another unlikely prophet who was the mother of Samuel – an important spiritual leader of the Hebrew people. Hannah’s song of praise and Mary’s song have many similarities which I spoke about then and won’t go into detail now except to say that it is significant that these women were bearers of radically good news that would provide hope for a desolate people.

We don’t need to be a woman who has carried and borne a child to understand the miraculous nature of birth and new life. Members of early Christian communities understood this very well. The Gospel of John for instance, speaks about being “born of water and Spirit”. (John 3:5)

This recognition of the indwelling of God’s loving Spirit within human life and working within communities of faith is an ancient truth. Do you remember the words of the first hymn we sang this morning? I’ll remind you of the words of the first verse, “This ancient love, processing through the ages; O hidden love, revealed in human form; O promised love, the dream of seers and sages: O living Love, within our hearts be born, O living Love, within our hearts be borne.” (Voices United # 17, verse 1)

At its best, a community of faith is both the carrier of God’s love and the conveyor of that love to others. In Christian communities of faith we believe that God’s love is manifest in ordinary daily life and in the life and ministry of Jesus whom we call, Christ. The extraordinary love that God has  for all the world is known to us in our relationships with family, friends and community. We express this love through our relationship with God and Christ in the blessings and words of the sacrament of baptism. It is good to remember these words of affirmation and blessing which are a gift to all of us. In the Declaration of Faith, at the beginning of our baptismal liturgy, we affirm that love is the essence of our faith with these words:

“We are loved by God, Source of love; by Jesus Christ, who made God’s love known to us; and by the Holy Spirit, 

God’s gift of love to us all.”

During the Action of Baptism you may recall me saying these words:

 

“I baptize you in the power of God’s love;

in the name of our Creator who creates us in love,

in the name of Jesus the Christ who is love incarnate,

and in the name of the Holy Spirit whose love guides us.

And then, as part of the Laying on of Hands in blessing, these words:

…the power of the Holy Spirit rest upon you, that being born of water and Spirit, you may live a life of love, peace and hope all your days. In the name of Jesus whose love surrounds 

us, we pray.”

Did you notice how many times the word love is used in these brief baptismal statements and blessings?  (Ten times.) 

On this fourth Sunday of Advent, Love is indeed the basis of our relationship with God, Christ, the Holy Spirit and with others in our families and our communities. As we prepare to welcome and celebrate this ancient and yet ever-present love, made known in the birth of the Christ-child, may we also commit ourselves to be bearers of the light and warmth of God’s love in the world.

In closing, we remember again prayerful words of affirmation and thanksgiving:

Gracious God,

For the love you have shown in the gift of the Christ-child,

for ties that bind us together as holy family and community,

for the Christ-light which shines through your Spirit in us,

we thank you and we offer our selves.

Turn all we have, all we are and will become, 

into gifts for the world you so love. Amen

      (Living the Christ Life, by Mangan, Wyse and Farr, Wood Lake Books, 2001)

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